[box cover]

Top Hat

Calling the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers collaborations formulaic is like technically explaining how a magician does a trick: it may be true, but it misses the artistry. Even the filmmakers knew it; in the DVD featurette "On Top: Inside the Success of Top Hat" it's mentioned that they would make a graph to show how much plot should be included before each dance number. Granted, the scripts may have done a cartographer justice, but the filmmakers had the series' breezy charm down to a science. Top Hat (1935) is possibly the best of formula, vying with Swing Time (1936) as the best of their collaborations. Astaire stars as dancer Jerry Travers, who meets Dale Tremont (Ginger Rogers) when he tap-dances in the hotel room above hers. She comes up to complain, and he instantly falls in love, providing her with a soft shoe routine to put her back to sleep. Jerry comes courting the next day and spends an afternoon dancing with Dale while there's a thunderstorm, but she comes to think that Jerry actually is his producer Horace Hardwick (Edward Everett Horton), whose wife Madge (Helen Broderick) is good friends with Dale. With this case of mistaken identity keeping the lovers apart, Dale decided to visit Madge in Italy, partly because her clothes (and her life) are provided for by fashion designer Alberto Beddini (Erik Rhodes). And when Jerry finds out she's gone, he forces Horace to take him to Italy for the weekend. While there, the confusion between Horace and Jerry is prolonged as long as possible, and in a rather scintillating sequence Madge seems to approve of Dale and Jerry dancing together (and possibly canoodling), to which Dale eventually gives in to Jerry's charms as he sings "Cheek to Cheek." With Horton, Rhodes, and Eric Blore (playing Bates, Horton's put-upon servant) providing comic support, Top Hat crackles with some very sharp writing and, of course, the almost fetishistic pleasure of watching Astaire & Rogers achieve synchronous symbiosis on the dance floor. Put plainly: Watching the two move together is one of the greatest filmgoing experiences one can hope to have, and 70 years later it still has the power to enthrall. Warner presents Top Hat in a fine full-frame transfer (1.33:1 OAR) and DD 1.0 audio. Extras include a commentary by Fred's daughter Ava Astaire McKenzie and author Larry Billman, the featurette "On Top: Inside the Success of Top Hat" (18 min.), the Bob Hope short "Watch the Birdie"(18 min.), the Merrie Melodies cartoon "Miss Glory" (8 min.), and the theatrical trailer. Keep-case.
—DSH



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